PT students, faculty lead PowerUP class

Cathy Harro, far left, leads people through exercise routines during a PowerUP class at the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences.
Cathy Harro, far left, leads people through exercise routines during a PowerUP class at the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences.

Nearly every week for the past four years, Lori Borgeld has traveled to an exercise class led by a physical therapy faculty member and graduate students.

Borgeld and others in her class have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. At each session, they are led through a series of exercises that will aid their balance, strength and agility.

Borgeld said the Parkinson’s PowerUP class, held at the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, is more than aerobic activity. “It’s a great support group,” Borgeld said. “We share similar experiences and hear each others’ complaints.”

Cathy Harro, assistant professor of physical therapy, has led the class for about six years. It’s free for community members who are in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, an incurable and degenerative neurological disorder.

“The people who are in this class feel empowered to stay active,” Harro said. “Exercise, in conjunction with medications, has been proven effective to keep patients with Parkinson’s functioning at a higher level for a longer period of time.”

Harro leads the class like an aerobic exercise instructor, guiding participants through strength, posture, balance and agility activities. The class activities and exercises are specifically designed to address motor control and balance deficits common with Parkinson’s disease. It also serves as a service learning opportunity for graduate students, who assist and interact with participants.

Mary Ellen Baker has attended Parkinson’s PowerUP for nearly three years. She said she notices differences in her body if she misses several classes. “If I don’t do it, I get real stiff,” Baker said.

Like Borgeld, Baker enjoys the camaraderie among participants. “We share successes we’ve had with alternative medicines and talk about our setbacks, too,” Baker said.

Harro and her students also assist at an exercise class for individuals with Parkinson’s disease at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids. Harro said that class is open to all stages of Parkinson’s disease; individuals in the more advanced stages of the disease complete the exercises while sitting down. Harro is a board certified neurologic clinical specialist and also serves as the clinical research director for the Lulenski-Smith Neurologic Physical Therapy Residency at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.